Short sessions are full of long, busy days and this week was no exception. Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane) summed it up best during a floor speech Friday when he described a legislative day as “lasting 6 weeks.” 6 weeks might even be an understatement. This week saw the release of both the House and Senate operating budgets (read our side-by-side comparison), followed by long committee hearings of public testimony and amendment debates on the budget proposals. Friday was also the opposite chamber policy committee cutoff, made more difficult by policy committees being delayed or even canceled due to lengthy floor debates as legislators voted on the operating budgets.
Increases in the state’s revenue outlook allowed the Legislature to make significant investments in their budget proposals. Both the Senate and House made funding childcare, homelessness, and behavioral health priorities in their budgets.
The House budget highlighted the behavioral health and safety supports for our K-12 students by increasing funding by nearly $51 million for school counselors at high poverty schools, and an additional $3.5 million into strengthening the new statewide network of student supports. Last session, House Bill 1216 was passed, establishing a network of behavioral health, student supports, and threat assessment protocols. The additional money is to help fund that effort and for two additional regional coordinators. Both budgets provided funding for the instructional needs of students in our institutions and residential schools – an issue that is getting much-needed attention this session. House Bill 2116 was heard in Senate Ways & Means on Saturday. This bill establishes a task force to improve our state’s institutional education programs and improve outcomes.
The Senate and the House both made early learning a priority issue this session, and that was reflected in their proposed budgets. The House budget made a substantial investment in the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program by allocating over $56 million to increase reimbursement rates to providers, and $9.66 million for a 7% raise in provider rates for the state’s highly effective Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), significantly higher than the Senate. Both budgets included $2.2 million to better serve the needs of children with complex needs receiving services in ECEAP.
The House Appropriations Committee amended their budget to include language that would provide $14.4 million from the Washington Opportunity Pathways Account to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to help level the disparity for charter public schools and state-tribal compact schools that currently do not have access to Local Effort Assistance (LEA) funds and/or local education levies. This amendment was not adopted on the Senate side, but we look forward to having that discussion as the budgets move forward in the process.
The fiscal committees meet over the weekend in Olympia and again on Monday, attempting to pass many of the bills referenced in their budget documents before the March 2nd cutoff. Budget writers and negotiators will continue to meet in an attempt to find common ground and understanding on the numerous issues that differ in their proposals. Beginning Tuesday, the Legislature will transition to floor activity and committees will only meet to pass bills necessary to implement the final budget document and for, dare we say interim planning. With less than 2 weeks of the legislative session left, there is still a lot to get done but that isn’t keeping anyone from beginning to talk about issues they want to tackle during the 2021 session. With each day feeling like “6 weeks,” January 2021 feels a lifetime away when, in fact, many of the projects that legislators and advocates want to address will need to be started soon after the gavel falls in Olympia on March 12th.
Listen to our latest podcast episode with David Lewis, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Seattle Public Schools, on how to implement a system of specific, targeted supports to identify and meet student needs, also known as Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).
Watch our webinar on What to Expect in the 2020 Legislative Session.